Mortonite honored on ‘Oprah Show’

Chelsea Peck
Darci Keyser, front left, poses with a group of students involved in the Sisterhood program she began five years ago at the Chicago Public School she works at.

When Darci Keyser got a call from an Oprah Winfrey employee, she said that woman was her angel.

After discussing answers she submitted to be considered as an Oprah Ultimate Fan for over an hour, Darci Keyser said she was happy to have the opportunity to share her story.

Darci Keyser, a Chicago Public School counselor, grew up in Morton and has devoted her life to helping the inner city students she works with at Phoenix Military Academy.

She has taught at the high school for six years and began a program called Sisterhood, which she described as a “women’s empowerment group,” five years ago.

“It started as a really small idea of having these girls meet a couple times a month and doing service learning. Five years later, it’s my life. I never dreamed so many years ago a small idea could turn into my passion,” Darci Keyser said.

She said many of the girls who started out in Sisterhood as freshman were first-generation high school graduates and are now first-generation college students.

“She’s always been involved. Whenever she gets involved she always goes over and beyond,” Dave Keyser, Darci’s father, said.

“She has a very giving heart. I don’t think a lot of people realize all she’s involved in and accomplished,” Bobbi Keyser, Darci’s stepmother, added.

When Darci Keyser was interviewed by an Oprah employee, she said she believed it was for the chance to be an Ultimate Fan. But, when the first episode of Oprah’s final season aired, Oprah sent her audience of Ultimate Fans to Australia.

“I thought, ‘No big deal,’ and ‘I’m so happy that it happened to these people because I’ve already been to Australia,’” she said. “I put it out of my head and went on with my life.”

A few weeks ago, Darci Keyser said she received a phone call asking if she was able to attend the Nov. 16 filming of the show.

She said, “Yes,” and immediately called her best friend, Heather Loudermilk, also a Morton resident, to invite her to come to the show with her.

“I felt like I was Oprah, and I made her wildest dreams come true. She was crazy. She was screaming. That was really fun, getting to tell her that,” Darci Keyser said.

Oddly enough, a third Morton resident and friend of Loudermilk’s, Malinda Radloff, was chosen as an Ultimate Fan and attended the same “Oprah Show.”

The three women, along with Peorian Jill Addy, had no idea what topic Oprah would be discussing until they began filming the show.

Oprah then announced it was her “Ultimate Favorite Things” show, where audience members received 23 different items that Oprah deemed to be her favorites.

They ranged from baking pans, five years of Netflix, a pair of $525 earrings and a Caribbean cruise, to name a few.

On the show, Oprah said everyone in the audience gives to their community in some way and so she wanted to give back to them.

“She changes so many of these kids’ lives,” Loudermilk said of Darci. “These kids come from drugs and gangs and abuse, and they come out and are doing great things in their lives. The list is endless.”

This is not the first time Darci Keyser was honored by the “Oprah Show.” Three years ago, girls from the Sisterhood group were chosen to be part of the O Ambassadors Program.

Forty of the girls were taken to an “Oprah Show” and Darci was chosen to go to Africa to help build schools, among other things.

Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things episode aired Friday and Loudermilk and Radloff had a viewing party in Morton.

Darci Keyser watched the show at her school, with her students.

“Watching it with them, even though I know Heather wanted me to be there, it made the experience so much more for me,” she said.

Darci Keyser said since Friday she has received an endless amount of e-mails, phone calls and Facebook messages from former students, parents and friends, which she deemed the “Darci Keyser love fest.”

“I’m just as excited because I got recognized as being someone who gives back to the world. I’m living this fun few days of a love fest, getting calls and e-mails. They just make me cry. They are just so excited for me,” she said.

Dave and Bobbi Keyser attended the viewing party Friday as well.

“We’re so excited. She needs to be recognized. She puts her heart and soul into what she does,” Bobbi Keyser said.

“The Sisterhood group that she started, we see kids five years ago who graduated and get scholarships and go onto college,” Dave Keyser said.

Darci Keyser’s passion for giving has not gone unnoticed, but she used the “Oprah Show” as a message to send to her students that these material things she received are not an integral part of life.

“I was able to help them understand that it’s not about the material things,” she said. “I told them I’ve been living without these things, and I don’t need them. It’s about giving back.”